United India: Are Trudeau’s Actions Pro-Separatism or a Publicity Stunt?

(Prarthana Pathak, Queen’s University)

Trudeau’s infamous trip to India in February is still a popular topic of conversation and mockery to this day. Due to  numerous accusations that Trudeau has been shielding Sikh separatists and providing aid to the Khalistan movement, Prime Minster of India Narendra Modi gave Trudeau the cold shoulder during his visit. PM Modi, who is known for his enthusiastic and warm receptions of visiting dignitaries, did not receive the Canadian Prime Minister at the airport in New Delhi. Modi didn’t welcome Trudeau via Twitter either. During Trudeau’s trip to Modi’s home state of Gujarat, Modi did not extend his hospitality to the Canadian leader’s family by accompanying them on a tour, as he often does in order to extend relations with many world leaders.

To make matters worse, Trudeau invited Jaspal Atwal to a dinner in Mumbai. Atwal is an ex-convict who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Canada for the attempted murder of the Minster of Punjab, Malkiat Singh Sidhu. The attempted assassination was a violent act as part of the campaign by Sikh extremists to establish Khalistan, a Sikh country separate from India. Trudeau has stated publicly that he does not support Sikh extremists and that a senior member of his team accidentally extended the invitation to Atwal.

Despite this statement, elements of Trudeau’s pro-Khalistan actions can be seen throughout his campaign and team. During Trudeau’s previous visit, the Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh refused to meet Canada’s Sikh Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan because he accused Harjit of being linked to Khalistan sympathizers.

The Khalistan movement is a Sikh separatist movement that has created a lot of controversy over the years, and the issue has erupted in Canada due to Trudeau’s alleged support. In 1984, the devastating and horrendous Sikh Genocide occurred, taking thousands upon thousands of Sikh lives. Sikh separatists-turned-extremists found refuge in the Golden Temple, a very holy and sacred place for the Sikh community. Following this, Indira Gandhi (Prime Minister at the time), ordered militant troops to kill the separatists on the grounds of the Temple if they did not evacuate. This bloodshed led to the assassination of Indira Gandhi, causing riots that took thousands more lives. Many of the separatists who were part of the movement escaped to Canada, where some continued the movement. It is, however, important to note that not all Sikhs are in favour of Khalistan due to the violent measures taken in its name.

Sikhs make up roughly 1.4 million, or 3.8% of the population in Canada, which has the second largest Sikh population after India. Following Trudeau’s controversial visit in February, Sikh pro-separatists continue to campaign to hold a referendum among Canadian Sikhs in favour of the independent Sikh nation. A spokesperson for Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office told Global News, “Canadians have the right to freedom of expression and speech. Canadians have the right to peacefully express their views.” Freeland’s office seeks to strike a balance between respecting Canadians’ right to expression and maintaining Canada’s position on the “United India” that Trudeau has claimed to support.

Trudeau’s seemingly indirect support towards pro-separatists has caused an eruption of pro-Khalistan support in Canada. According to the National Post on Khalistan polling referendum, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs described the pro-separatist campaign as “separatist activity which impinges on India’s territorial integrity” and “seeks to propagate violence, secessionism and hatred”. PM Modi made a statement following Trudeau’s visit stating his disapproval for any dignitaries coming to India and causing further separatism—a statement most likely directed at Prime Minister Trudeau. There has been rage amongst citizens in India, and the impression of Trudeau in India is decreasing.

In an attempt to “repair the damage” caused by Trudeau in February Andrew Scheer, head of the Conservative Party, met PM Modi during his recent trip to India. Andrew Scheer was photographed with Modi wearing simple suit and tie, and seemingly impressed Modi far more than Trudeau had during his past visit. Modi met with Scheer on the Tuesday following his arrival during the weekend, a very different reception from the one he Trudeau a full six days after his arrival. Both Scheer and Modi kept things strictly professional as they spoke on matters regarding political relations and enhancing trade.

Following Trudeau’s visit Liberal vote dropped nearly 5% as voters began to doubt Trudeau’s ability to maintain his professionalism and follow through with his stated mission. Trudeau spent nearly $1.4 million on his trip, and was photographed dancing and wearing traditional Indian clothing rather than working to enhance trade relations with India. The lack of publicity during Scheer’s trip gave both Modi and Canadian voters a very different and much more positive impression. According to the National Post, Modi criticises Trudeau as being “too soft” towards Sikh separatists.

Although Trudeau has gained voters in the Sikh community, especially among the separatist population, he is projected to lose his foothold with most Indo-Canadian. Even though Trudeau’s trip was months ago, it has impacted both the Indo-Canadian and Sikh community gravely, an impact that is expected to carry through to the following election.



Vij, Shivam. “Why India is Being Really Rude to Trudeau? Washington Post, 20 February 2018.

Ivision, John. “John Ivison: Andrew Scheer pulls off low key India trip devoid of dancing and celebrity chefs.” National Post, 9 October 2018.

Kalvapalle, Rahul. “Sikh Group Plans to hold Khalistan Referedum Polling in Canadian Cities in 2020.” Global News, 3 October 2018.